Army of the Dead is an exciting (and controversial) rock n roll thrill ride sweeping across a zombie-infested Las Vegas! At its core, this is a bank heist film with plenty of twists, turns, and WTF was that kind of moments. Zack Snyder throws his motley band of heroes – led by Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy 1, 2, Avengers: Infinity War) – directly into the rotting heart of the apocalypse.
The movie is jam-packed with Easter Eggs and a lot of love for classic horrors from the past and packs a lot of (bite) punch for horror fans to enjoy.
Stakes are high and is the temptation of a few billion dollars really worth risking their lives against a zombie army? Stick around as we get deep and dirty into Army of the Dead and the road that led up to it!
Reviving the Dead circa 2003
When I heard Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Justice League) was returning to the zombie field I was immediately intrigued. Snyder began his career with the zombie apocalypse so it was exciting to wonder what he had to bring to the genre that debuted his style, art, and themes.
It’s hard to believe how vastly popular zombies are today considering – not too long ago at all – there was a considerable lack of zombie movies. Some of our readers will know what I’m talking about. I mean it almost felt like the zombie genre was almost taboo. The sub-genre was something dirty that nobody wanted to soil their careers with and so the undead were as good as dead.
I don’t think it’s out of line to propose that had it not been for Capcom’s Resident Evil games during the ‘90s zombies may have never been on anyone’s mind at all. But video games were proving that there was still some life stirring in the ghastly genre perfected by George Romero.
And then they came crawling out of their graves to take the world by storm. I don’t know if the hyper paranoia of the dawning new millennium had anything to do with it, and, let’s be honest, it could be that entirely now that I’m looking back at it. Because as soon as 2000 rolled around the zombie film was resurrected.
And why wouldn’t it? Prophecy pushers were telling everybody that as soon as the clock clicked midnight and 1999 ended so would the world. We would be plunged into frenzied hysteria as machines turned against us and we fell back into a modern stone age. The world would end, Jesus was coming back, and electronics were gonna go KABOOM!
Obviously, none of that happened but the apocalypse was still heavily on everyone’s subconscious. It was the perfect breeding ground for zombie movies.
I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a few movies, two, in particular, were responsible for reviving the living dead at the dawn of the new millennium. Those movies being 28 Days Later (2003) and the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Already collecting criticism and controversy over his debut, Snyder’s DOTD had fans of Romero’s horror classic furious that anyone could dare remake it. And, to the surprise of many, DOTD was an international success! People were not just talking about zombies but were foaming at the mouth about them! Smartly, Snyder’s movie does not feel like a shot-for-shot remake, and had it been given another name it may have won over even more fans upon its release. But outside of a story about a group of survivors taking refuge inside of a mall, it has nothing in common with the Romero classic.
And, like 28 Days Later, it bared its teeth and furthered the idea of running zombies. These two films made the living dead even more challenging by giving them rushing bull-like speed as they chased down their unsuspecting victims who woke up to a dangerous new world where the grave was no longer safe.
Some people hated the concept but many were thrilled by it. And please don’t judge me too harshly but I’m one of those who really enjoyed DOTD. It definitely got me excited for zombies all over again.
The zombie movie was back and it was taking no prisoners.
Since then we’ve had the global success of The Walking Dead and it’s easy to say zombies have become a permanent fixture in pop culture’s heart. We even had a zombie rom-com that is…well yeah whatever. But what I wanted to know was could anyone bring something fresh and original to a subgenre that’s been shoved through the industrial meat processer and flushed onto home video, streaming services, and cinemas. Was there still anything new to bring home to the genre, kinda like what DOTD helped do with those screaming running horrors?
Army of the Dead says ‘hold my beer.’
Right off the bat, we’re shown an army convoy heading out of Area 51, and to drive the idea home there are two glowing UFOs in the distance, hovering silently and possibly watching the convoy before flashing skyward and utterly disappearing. I didn’t even notice the UFOs upon my initial watch but couldn’t deny them the next time around.
Something about seeing two UFOs at the start of a zombie movie makes it eerie, like great old X-Files episodes. It tells us to expect the unexpected.
The precious cargo being hauled across the desert via army convoy is none other than the Alpha, a new being of what can presumably be a super soldier gone wrong (or right?). Irreverently the mission comes to an abrupt end thanks to some unforeseen road head, and, you guessed it, the Alpha is released and proves to be far more formidable than any of the trained military troops are prepared to handle.
This is a movie that calls its audience a pussy if they’re not ready for the kind of experiences it has in store. As we’re introduced to Zeus, the alpha zombie, the start of a new kind of species, he rips, tears, and shreds his path through armed soldiers as he reforms their flesh, tainting their DNA with his own malignance, and builds his very own army. Zeus defies death and spreads disease wherever he goes. He then sets his eyes on the bright lights of Las Vegas and the intro credits begin.
This movie starts right off with the middle finger and tells us this isn’t like what we’ve seen before. And let’s be honest, us zombie movie fans have seen A LOT! We have the likes of George Romero, Lucio Fulci, and Stuart Gordon. And know what? I’m gonna include Sam Rami even though his beasties are Deadites. The point being they were demon zombies or the Evil Dead. They were the dead brought back to life.
My point is thanks to past zombie movies we’ve seen some crazy ass shit. I mean we’ve seen a zombie fight a shark under the ocean, zombies got on intercoms to call in more cops just to have more brains to eat, and Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) chainsawed his dead girlfriend’s head off, and then she danced for him. We love crazy shit in zombie movies, those happy little scenes that come out of nowhere and rip our faces off. Those are the moments we talk about, the moments that make these movies classic.
Oh yeah, and who can forget when a dead head gave Barbara Crampton head in Re-Animator?
Us Drive-In Mutants eat this kind of stuff up!
Army of the Dead gives us possible alien zombies. Imagine if Area 51 decided to fuck around with DNA splicing between an alien and a human. Well, that’s where Zeus (possibly, strong possibility) comes in. The super-soldier, the alpha zombie to kick-start Armageddon just because he can.
But that’s not anywhere near enough though! Oh hell no. Then, like a sumbitch, the movie goes and throws friken cyborg zombies at us out of the clear blue! Then, once the initial WTF wears off, we’re left begging for more of that shit. And no, that wasn’t your imagination. Zac Snyder’s gone on record and insists there are legit robot zombies in the film and we will get to explore what that’s all about in the upcoming Army of the Dead anime movie. Holy shit!
But scattered across the dead streets of Las Vegas are Romero-like zombies called Shamblers. They’re a little dried out thanks to the Nevada sun but once it rains they come back to life for a few hours. So people who hated the fast zombies get their tried and true classic shambling zombie horde.
But that’s just it. There are classes among the zombies. The shambling dried out ones who cluttered around the gates … oh yeah. Las Vegas has been walled off by shipping containers to keep the zombie legions locked in. But this is no prison, oh no. That’s too simple. Vegas has become a zombie kingdom ruled over by Zeus and his zombie bride.
So yes, this is a movie that dares to have different kinds of zombies all living together in a zombie kingdom ruled over by an intellectual class of the undead who strictly monitor the happenings both within and outside of their boundaries. Did you get that? There are intelligent zombies in this movie!
Zombies that can reason things out, communicate, make decisions and strategize. WTF, Snyder? Horror fans only expect so much out of a zombie movie and you go and slam down a sledgehammer on those very expectations. The film keeps giving us glimpses into a much broader lore than anticipated. With promises a future films in the making to further explore that lore. So what we see here is only the tip of the iceberg for what’s developing into a very interesting new zombie saga.
I don’t have enough fingers to type all this out fast enough and I’m trying to condense this review, but there’s so much to cover! I mean I just told you this movie has a zombie monarchy! And with the higher functioning zombies, it almost feels like a sense of telekinesis is shared. Maybe? But whatever the case these guys can and do communicate. This movie introduces a group of undead who are organized, structured, and driven by purpose. That makes them very scary and very dangerous.
And just because we’re in Las Vegas we also get a zombie tiger. Oh, my unholy hell a zombie tiger that is infinitely cool!
Now all I want is for NECA to take note and let me have that zombie king astride his zombie horse (oh yeah, there’s that too) with his zombie tiger. My horror figure shelf is needing all that right now.
Add to that a proposed infinite time loop that traps the heroes in an endless pursuit within the zombie kingdom with no escape outside of a gruesome death. It’s very likely these heroes are doomed to repeat their fatal decisions over and over, facing new deaths but no closure as they gradually draw closer and closer to reaching their goals. So the question is will they finally (if ever) escape from this grizzly fate?
Holy shit! There’s some heavy stuff in this zombie film!
If this was a video game I’d be on my feet and starving myself to death until completing every single mission.
This movie is heavy metal and brutal to the bleeding core.
Needless to say, this is one helluva wild zombie movie, one we’ve been due for a long time now. It’s something to shake up the genre and informs us all that there’s so much more to be explored with tired and used zombie formulas.
It’s no secret people love to hate Zack Snyder and the haters are out in full force. The same people who accuse this movie of being a direct rip-off of Aliens will also praise the pants off of Star Wars. Meanwhile, George Lucas has gone on record to claim SW is nothing more than a direct rip-off of classic Japanese Samurai films. There’s nothing new under the sun and directors will repeat formulas that inspired them. It may only be a subconscious thing, or maybe it’s deliberate.
Bottom line there are a lot of movies – films we all love to this day – that are guilty of this.
Let’s get this straight though. This movie is not Citizen Kane we’re talking about. It’s a bank heist zombie gore film using a fusion of action-adventure/horror/sci-fi elements. It was made to be fun and entertaining. And it does its job right.
Like I said some people love to hate Zack Snyder and are already predisposed to find fault and flaws in anything he does. I mean they hate his guts and act like he walked into their parent’s house and punched their mothers right in the face.
If you do hate his movies but like horror films, especially stuff like Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, and Evil Dead (you know the fun ones) then you won’t want to miss out on this one. See it for what it is. A brand new zombie film that introduces some fresh elements to the genre.
Now I’m ready for NECA to make me that zombie king on his zombie horse with his zombie tiger!
Do it violently!